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City budget shows higher spending possible for 2016
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MONROE - While city taxes may have dipped slightly lower than last year's rate, spending within the overall budget has bumped up more than $7 million in the past two years.

In 2014, total expenditures for the city of Monroe budget were $21.1 million. Between 2015 and the projected budget for 2016, expenses jumped from $21.99 million to $28.5 million. Even with the increase, the tax rate fell from 11.01 in 2015 to $10.82 for 2016.

Assistant City Administrator Martin Shanks said the main difference is the focus on capital fund projects. Capital items are defined in the 2016 budget as "purchases that exceed $5,000 and have a useful life exceeding five years." While borrowing was increased by roughly $1 million for the new wastewater treatment plant and $300,000 overall, capital projects that have been neglected such as bumpy streets or the crumbling facade of City Hall have been built into the budget for possible spending in the future. Items also include vehicles for the police, fire and streets departments.

"We haven't really been committing a lot of dollars to that in the past," Shanks said. "We wanted to focus on building the fund up."

In 2014, the budget called for $1.6 million for projects. The 2016 expenditures total has been set at $6.9 million but individual capital projects are subject to approval by the common council.

There are other funding sources possible, such as donations and grants. The work would be submitted to the common council to approve each project and its source of funding.

Capital projects proposed include:

n Reconstruction of 8th Street. The revenue for the 8th Street reconstruction project would come from taking on new debt service.

n A new computer server that would allow the city and other departments to store up to 15 terabytes of data. The budget designates $36,000 for the new addition.

n The police department could acquire new body cameras for roughly $10,000. Squad cars for the department have been given an allotment of $102,000.

n The fire department received a $190,000 grant and applied funds already in its department budget to cover $260,000 worth of capital equipment in need of replacement. Items include self-contained breathing apparatus recently acquired and a new command vehicle.

n Streets department equipment replacement called for $1.42 million. Skidloaders, endloaders, and trucks to deal with snow and general work were budgeted for purchase.

n Signalized intersection updates along Wisconsin 69 and 21st Street and improved lighting around the Square are also marked as capital improvements.

n A big item for parks is the estimated $300,000 to replace a Twining Park shelter. Replacing a 2001 pickup truck and resurfacing the North East Park tennis court are budgeted at roughly $33,000 and a turf reinforcement to expand the parking lot at Honey Creek is slotted for $8,000.

At least one alderman says this level of spending is detrimental to growth within the city. Alderman Michael Boyce, who expressed his disdain for the city budget when it was approved in November, pointed to a "vivid" example of high expenses within Monroe. He said one new family residence was built within the city within the same time that 50 had been put in place in the surrounding township. He also reiterated a story detailing the findings of a resident within Ward 3 who was going to spend $500,000 within the city to build a house, but calculated a difference of roughly $85,000 over the next 15 years in savings if the house were to built in Monroe Township.

"I think that is the most glaring example of why high taxes and fees lead to slow or non-existent growth in the city," Boyce said. "The two biggest issues are little construction and very little development or re-development."

City Administrator Phil Rath has a different take. He said there are factors other than the tax rate to consider as to why the city has remained at a standstill for growth. He pointed to a lack of expansion space within Monroe as one such factor. He also said there are benefits to living in Monroe that are not as available through other cities and that the determination of cost versus standard of living is a "balancing act" the city performs each year.